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My 46-year-old husband of 21 years passed away 7 1/2 months ago. Just typing that sentence makes it real all over again. Who would have guessed I’d be here? Yet here I am. A 44-year-old widowed mom of three.

Nine months ago, just 10 days before my husband went on hospice due to stage IV metastatic uveal melanoma that had quickly ravaged his body, we found ourselves in-between visits from out-of-state visitors. When you have cancer and life is nearing its end, everyone makes their final visits. People come to help because it’s impossible to deny you need help. So we had two days. Just TWO days to ourselves without anyone at our house. I knew in the depths of my heart that it might very well be the LAST two days we had as a family, as a couple, to ourselves.

I wanted to plan something special for us as a family, but it never worked out. On that second night, however, my husband and I miraculously found ourselves kid free at dinner time.

We hadn’t planned this. We weren’t expecting time alone. Yet there we were.

I made dinner. Just a regular old dinner. Looking back, that’s exactly what we needed. A regular old dinner at the table, just the two of us. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I served. It didn’t matter.

It was a tender, intimate time for us, just the two of us. My husband prayed before we ate. He thanked God for his “amazing wife,” for all I had done and all the ways I had been so supportive and sacrificial through our cancer journey. We cried during and after that prayer. It was a holy moment and we knew it.

During dinner, my husband said something so important, so poignant, I knew in that instant it was something I’d never forget.

He asked for me NOT to dread what was next for me, but to be EXCITED. 

For context, this came up during conversation we were having about the last 15 1/2 years of our 21-year marriage, how we had experienced so many crazy, challenging, and often times traumatic events. I admitted I was due for “some good times” after all this. My husband acknowledged that there would be a transition period after his passing for me to take care of business, but once all that was cleared and it was time for me to move onto what’s next, he didn’t want me to dread it, he wanted me to be excited for it.


Just tears.

I feel it deep in my bones.

He wants me to be excited.

He doesn’t want me to dread anything.

He wants me to be excited.

That is his legacy and that is exactly what he wanted for me.

Excitement. Zest for life. To LIVE my life.

I said it in the moment and I’ll say it again. I knew this was an important and holy moment. I knew this was something I’d never forget. I knew this was a gift, a treasure from my husband. Perhaps the hardest thing he might ever say to me, but the most important sacrificial gift. This was my husband’s dying wish for me, that I should be EXCITED for what’s next.

So I find myself here.

In this place.

A quiet, beautiful place of true, deep excitement.

I feel it now.

He wanted me to be excited. And I am.

Excited for what God has in store for me. Excited about the possibilities. Excited to take adventures and try new things. Excited to LIVE like I’ve never LIVED before and LOVE like I’ve never LOVED before. Excited to take cool drinks and warm baths, long walks and fast runs. Excited to dive deep and linger long. Excited to cry, to laugh. Excited to make new friends and treasure the ones I have. Excited to hang lights and cozy up on the couch with a warm blanket. Excited to make things beautiful, excited to appreciate the beauty I’ve created. Excited to use my gifts and serve others well. Excited to fall in love again. Excited to say “YES, I do” again someday. Excited to watch my kids grow and find love. Excited to have grandbabies someday. Excited to travel, excited to venture and go places I’ve never been. Excited to feel the breeze blow through my hair. Excited to hang on tight. Excited to live in every here and now. Excited to be a human being. Excited to know I’m not done yet. Excited to know life has not ended. Excited to know it’s just beginning again. Excited to have been given this gift from my dying husband. His final wish for me. To be EXCITED. Hallelujah. I will be, I AM deeply, honestly, truly excited.


I’ll never forget the day I went into my favorite store, White House Black Market, looking for something to wear to an event held in honor of my husband four days after his passing. I went in with my mom and one of my daughters. COVID-19 was just hitting, so there was barely anyone in the mall. The sales clerk said they were on the verge of closing the mall down, but there we were anyway. Because cancer knew nothing of COVID and COVID knew nothing of cancer. Death happens.

It seemed odd to be searching for dressy clothes when COVID was hitting and everything was about to be shut down out of fear for our lives. “Searching for anything special today?” asked the clerk. “No,” I replied, “just looking.” I’d told my mom to keep quiet about why we were in there. I didn’t want all the attention. I just wanted to look at my own pace and not have someone coming at me with 50 suggestions about what might be good to wear at a family-friendly event honoring my late husband’s life. It’s been six months since my husband’s passing, so I don’t recall the details of that day anymore, but I managed to keep the secret all the way to the point of the dressing room. I’d brought in all the pieces that seemed reasonable for the occasion. Time to get at it, try on all these wares and see what I might like to look like on the day I’d meet with neighbors, friends, and colleagues, mostly all young folks solidly sitting in the family rearing years.

I tried on one item after the next. Nothing was striking my fancy. Absolutely nothing.

The sales clerk asked again, “What kind of event are you needing this for?” I replied hesitantly, knowing my answer was going to cause waves of pity amongst all the clerks in the store, not to mention the waves of clothing that would start appearing once I admitted I was in there because my husband had passed and now I needed an outfit to wear to an event in his honor. But I gave in and answered honestly. Because as I stated, I hadn’t found a thing that felt right, and I honestly didn’t have time nor energy to scour the mall.

The clerk was kind. The diluge of clothing that appeared after my admission wasn’t nearly as annoying as I imagined it to be. What was shocking, though, was how terrible I felt in that dressing room as we continued to try to find something, now as a team instead of just me and my mom.

What I will never, ever forget is when I finally broke down and admitted to my mom and the sales clerk that I didn’t feel pretty, didn’t like the way I looked in anything, that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself for a good two years on this cancer journey. And honestly? Two years didn’t even cut it. The three years prior to that hadn’t been much better – a cross-country move, selling our house, my husband who had been laid off for 9 1/2 months, an ER visit and 10 days of panic attacks for me, a lung transplant and recovery for my dad, the discovery, diagnosis and treatment of my husband’s primary eye tumor, all while having JUST left my career to pursue writing and photography. I felt like crap standing there in that dressing room. The past five years had NOT gone the way I’d planned. At all. As I stood there, I could see clearly that stress had taken its toll.

I bought a pair of black dress pants, a silk cream shirt with embroidered black flowers on top, a long black cardigan, and a pair of flats. It was nice, but I didn’t feel special and I definitely didn’t feel beautiful.

The funny thing is, during the two years we journeyed through metastatic uveal melanoma, I’d begun to learn what extraordinary self care looked like. I forced myself to take time for myself, whatever that looked like. I took what I thought were extreme measures to keep myself alive and functioning to the very best of my ability. But I’ve since learned that extreme stress that lasts year upon year upon year takes a toll that can’t be measured until we’re truly out of the thick of it. Sure, I was learning how to practice extraordinary self care, but I didn’t have a clue how deep I was in stress. What I didn’t know at the time is that I was practicing extraordinary acts of self care just to stay ALIVE for my husband and my children. I was the strong one, the reliable one, the dependable one, the solid rock. I know you can relate. You’ve been there, right?

So now, six months later, when I look back at that day in the White House Black Market dressing room, I see clearly that even though I’d taken extraordinary measures to take extraordinary care of myself during my husband’s cancer journey, I was truly just surviving. I wasn’t thriving. When you’re in survival mode, extraordinary self care isn’t enough to bring you up and out. It’s only until you’re OUT OF survival mode that extraordinary self care will bring about the miracle you truly need.

So friends, I’m telling you now. If you’re IN survival mode taking care of all kinds of junk you never expected to endure in life, you need to treat yourself extraordinarily. If you’re just coming OUT of a long season of junk you never expected to endure in life, you ALSO need to treat yourself extraordinarily.

The Bible says “love your neighbor as yourself.” So what if you’ve loved your neighbor SO hard that you forgot to love yourself along the way? What if you’ve loved others so incredibly hard and given them your all that you forgot yourself in the process? How in the world are you going to recover? The Bible DOES SAY “as yourself.” There’s an assumption there that we’re going to care for ourselves and love ourselves. We must not dismiss this assumption.

I am happy, in fact beyond happy, to report that six months after my husband’s passing, I am finally feeling the positive effects of taking extraordinary care of my extraordinary self. These past six months, I’ve taken extraordinary measures to restore my body, soul, mind, heart, and every aspect of my living being.

Let me share some of the very tangible ways I’ve done this. Because I know you. You’re a caretaker. You’re a lover of souls. You don’t know what it takes to take care of yourself. You’ve done this for far too long and you honestly might not remember what extraordinary self care looks like. So let me tell you, my friend.

Extraordinary self care means buying yourself flowers at the grocery store and at the side of the road. (Notice I said AND. That means you buy flowers for yourself not once, but twice or more…as needed, friend.) It means weeding the garden and adding a new plant that you and only you think is beautiful.

Extraordinary self care means getting honest, throwing away half of your underwear and buying yourself new underwear, a whole lot of underwear. Beautiful underwear, practical underwear, super sexy underwear, soft underwear, underwear that fit, underwear that expresses your style even though nobody knows but you. Extraordinary self care means going into Victoria’s Secret and saying hey, I deserve this. I deserve a beautiful, well-fitting bra. Not only that, I deserve (and NEED) three beautiful, well-fitting bras, so I’m going to get ALL of them. It means taking a long, hard look at your closet and realizing that you’ve had clothes in there for 15 years and that is WAY too long, even for the pieces you once loved dearly. I’m being honest here, even your favorite piece from 12 years ago needs to go. It’s time. Extraordinary self care says I am worth it. That shirt was amazing, but I am worth a NEW and even better shirt than that. Extraordinary self care grants you permission to bring those old clothes to the thrift store and step into your favorite store with a fresh start in mind. You simply say what do I like? What do I need? What makes me happy? What one simple thing will make me feel better, live more freely, more comfortably in my own body? Extraordinary self care brings peace. You leave the store with two pair of jeans, one comfy sweater, one classy sweater, and a beautiful lace top, and know you did yourself well today. Well done, good and faithful servant. You loved (your neighbor) AS YOURSELF today. And yes, you did NOT worry about the $177 you spent on yourself because you are worth WAY more than $177.

Extraordinary self care means tossing out the old tennis shoes with holes all over the place and buying a new pair. Just buy the brand that’s worked for you in the past, friend. Treat yourself well. You know what you need. Just get it. And after that, it means going home or going to the gym. And you walk, you run, you lift, you jump, you pose, whatever it is you need to get your heart moving so you can keep yourself healthy. You stop eating junk and start feeding yourself good stuff, stuff that energizes you and replenishes your reserves. You decide this is important. This is necessary work. Your health and mental health are paramount. Your needs are not any less than anyone else’s needs. Extraordinary self care says I am worth it. When you feel better you will DO better. You will LIVE better. You will BE a better person. I promise. Take care of yourself. Take care of your ONE and ONLY body.

Extraordinary care means doing all the little things they tell you to do…take a bath, take a hot shower, buy some good smelling shampoo and actually smell it, light a candle, drive slow, look longer, find something beautiful, cry when you need to and laugh when you feel like it. Listen to some amazing music and DO what you LOVE.

And most of all? Extraordinary self care means seeing yourself as worthy. You are worthy of LOVE. You are worthy of CARE. You are worthy of GOOD and BEAUTIFUL things, friend. Extraordinary self care means writing that friend and trusting her with your secrets, and then listening when she writes back to tell you that YOU are indeed something special to be treasured. It means listening to her and taking her words to heart, the very bottom of your heart. It means realizing once and for all that you are WORTHY of LOVE. You are a true CATCH. And I don’t mean in a sexy, superficial way. I mean, you are ONE TRUE CATCH, my friend. Our Father created you and you are wonderfully, beautifully and fearfully made. You are a CATCH. You are divine, my friend. Live every single blessed day with that in mind. You are a blessing. Your life is a blessing. You are loved beyond measure. You are important and you are to be treasured.

Find these places of centering. Whether you’re in the thick of it or you’ve come out the other side, DO what you need to DO. Extraordinary self care is necessary here AND there. The world needs you, and it needs the very best you. Stand in that dressing room and say here I am. I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am going to be okay. I am worth it. I am divine. I am here. Here am I.

For months, the striped duvet and shams in the Pottery Barn catalog wowed me and called me. When it comes to decorating, our master bedroom is at the bottom of the barrel. The dining room, living room, powder room, kid’s bathroom and kids’ bedrooms have always taken priority over ours. It’s just the way we’ve operated. So there wasn’t any chance I was getting that Pottery Barn duvet until Chrismas Eve 2008 when I opened a surprise package from my mama. Somehow, she’d gotten whiff that I wanted that duvet. She bought it and packaged it up pretty with my name on top. It seems silly now, but I shed a few tears over that surprise. Because somebody noticed what I loved, somebody cared, somebody bought me something beautiful. Just for me.

Within a couple weeks, I’d ordered shams and pillows. In no time flat, the set was up. Bright and beautiful, comfortable and classy, just the way I envisioned it.

Now all we needed was fresh paint.

We just so happened to be working with an interior decorator on window treatments for our living room, kitchen, entryway, and two kids’ bedrooms, so when he came over for the consultation, we brought him upstairs to look at paint colors for our master bedroom.

I had a plan. I had a vision. I’m telling you now, I knew what I wanted before the interior decorator even stepped in the room. I wanted green, one of the shades of green in the duvet. Either shade, any complementary shade of green would do. That’s all I wanted. GREEN. Just make it green, please.

I told him straight up. “I want green. I was thinking green. Like this shade or this shade.”

He pulled out his big ring, flipped through all the blessed colors of green, and by golly, green just didn’t seem to settle right with him. (To this day, I still wonder if he didn’t have a true paint match, or whether he just downright hated green. The world will never know.)

“How about tan?” asked the interior decorator as he flipped through his color ring in search of the perfect tan to match my beloved duvet.

“I’d really love a dark brown wall,” my husband added. “Maybe on this wall, behind our bed.”

Honestly, I don’t even know how green turned to tan and dark brown, but it did. Before I knew it, this wall was going to be dark brown, this wall was going to be tan, so forth and so forth. Right before my eyes, the whole room had been revised. Tan and dark brown. And oh yes, let’s add a dark red stripe on the top AND on the bottom for good measure. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time. Yes, that would pull the color and pull the stripe up from the duvet onto the wall. A pop of color. Yes, indeed. I reasoned with myself, I convinced myself that’s just what we needed.

So up it went. Up went the paint. We hired the interior decorator’s suggested painter to come and do it. Because TAN plus DARK BROWN plus a DARK RED stripe not only on the top, but the bottom, too, was going to be a lot of work and there was no way I was doing this myself.


I liked it at first. It was good.

I had my duvet. I had my shams. I’d even met the interior decorator at the discount fabric store and found the crazy floral fabric for our window treatments (all by myself, mind you…without his help, but with his approval).

But as each day passed, I grew to hate the tan, the dark brown, and especially the red stripes on the top and bottom of our walls.

I never wanted tan.

I never wanted dark brown.

I never wanted dark red. And I never wanted stripes.

I loved the striped duvet.

I loved the striped shams.

But I wanted GREEN on the walls. GREEN.

Every morning since the winter of 2009, I’ve woken up next to my beloved husband, snuggled up in my striped duvet. I look over on my dresser where I keep a family photo and all my Kenya, Haiti & Dominican treasures, and I’m grateful for the life and opportunities God has given me. But then I look up at the Target tan and red walls, I look over to our beautifully framed wedding photo and the big red stripe right above it, and I’m reminded that I LOST. MY. VOICE. I didn’t know how to assert myself in a moment that counted. Sure, paint color WAS and IS a simple thing, a superficial thing. Honestly, paint color doesn’t matter one iota in the scheme of much-more-important life things. But my voice DOES matter. My opinion DOES matter. What I THINK, what I HOPE for, what I WANT, what I DREAM of, and what I LOVE DOES matter. I must not deny that. I must not deny my voice. Even when it comes to superficial things, like green walls.

Not now, but sometime in the next year or two, we’re hoping to buy new furniture and bedding for our master bedroom. As two first borns, it takes us a bazillion years to agree on pretty much anything, so we’re already starting to look and dream and talk a bit about what that new bedroom furniture and bedding might look like.

This week, we received a Pottery Barn catalog in the mail. I’ve been throwing them straight away for months because we’re not in the position to buy furniture, bedding or anything from Pottery Barn right now. But this time, we did take a peek. My husband wants this page…neutrals, grays, dark browns with a light neutral on the walls. I want something more like that page…creams, linens, with more color in the quilt. And I won’t say what color I’d like on the walls until I know what bedding we’d get.

Yes, I reminded my husband that I won’t be promising anything this time.

Because I’ve learned my lesson.

I will not surrender my voice to paint colors. I will not surrender my voice to the colors on a quilt. I will not surrender my voice to the type of wood we have or the type of light fixtures that hang from our wall, or anything of the sort.

Never again will I stare at a wall for 9 years, letting it remind me that I not only surrendered, but LOST my voice for no good reason.

Just in case you wondered where all the passion comes over paint colors…this losing my voice for no good reason? It isn’t a first, you know. This isn’t about green paint. This isn’t about tan or dark brown. This isn’t about red stripes. This isn’t about my beloved duvet. This isn’t about me being married to another first born or us taking a bazillion years to choose things together. This isn’t about our interior decorator. This isn’t a debate about superficial things vs. things that really matter. This isn’t about me being a bratty baby and needing to “suck it up buttercup” because paint color doesn’t matter in light of hurricanes and fires, nuclear bombs and starving children. This is about me OWNING my VOICE, being able to express myself and standing strong and steady in that space. This is about me seeing that I matter, that my thoughts and opinions count for something, that I was created for a reason and that I should feel free to release my voice and gifts into the world just as much as anyone else.

Bet your bottom dollar, I’m saving my beautiful, beloved duvet for a guest room. Maybe this time, I’ll paint the walls green.


Recently, I received an email from a photography client who loved the photos I took of her family, but…ummm…herself? Not so much. She went on to describe WHY she didn’t like herself in the photos and what specific action she needed to take to remediate that problem next time they take family photos. The funny thing is, I thought she looked STUNNING in REAL LIFE and STUNNING in the PHOTOS. I never thought once that something was off with her look, her style or anything about her. In fact, I thought she was beautiful, poised and TOTALLY put together from head to toe.

I sat and started at the email, wondering if there was something I could have done differently to make this mama feel more beautiful when we took the photos, something I could have done differently with posing to make her feel more at ease, something I could have done differently in editing to make her beautiful self pop from the picture even more.

As I sat staring at that email, I realized this wasn’t about me.

Memories came flooding back. This territory was all too familiar. You see, three years ago, I was the one emailing our photographer, saying I liked our family photos, but I didn’t really like any of the head shots we took of me during the photo shoot. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. I shopped for myself last and bought a shirt that worked with everyone else’s clothes, but I didn’t ever really love it. I felt fat in the jeans I was wearing. The bags under my eyes were too big. I didn’t look like myself. I don’t know. I just didn’t like myself in the photos.

We used the family photo for our Christmas card that year, we printed a family 5×7 for our living room, and I put one of the family photos up on my blog’s “Meet Amy” page. But I NEVER used ANY of the head shots of myself from that photo shoot. Never updated the photo on my blog. Never updated my social media photos. Never used them in blog posts. Never used them anywhere.

When I was going through family photos this fall, I ran across the CD from that photo shoot from three years ago. I took time to look through all the photos on that CD because I hadn’t looked at them in three years and I wanted to know if they were really that bad or if I’d simply fabricated a story in my mind.


Three years later, here’s what I saw…

While the photos of me weren’t awesome, they were also very pretty.

Yes, I said it.

They were also very pretty.

The truth is, there was something INSIDE of ME during and after that particular photo shoot that wasn’t well, something ugly that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my face. (Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it’s kind of true. Right ladies?) Instead of seeing my beauty, I beat myself up, picking apart every flaw in the photos.

Too fat.

Bags under my eyes.



Ugly, not-quite-right shirt.

Don’t like the way I look.

Three years later and a fresh set of eyes, I could see that I looked pretty in the photos. Totally acceptable. Just right for where and who I was at that time. There was NOTHING wrong with those pictures. Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were beautiful.

Ladies, for the sake of our own well being, we must figure out how to distinguish between PERFECT and PRETTY. 

Okay, so maybe you’re not going for PRETTY. Maybe you prefer to look beautiful, stunning, ravishing, radical, rogue, hip, cool, casual, fun, friendly, feminine, astute or simply put together.

However you are, WHOEVER you are, here’s what I want you to know if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures.

  1. First and foremost, the likelihood is that you DO look pretty, you DO look beautiful.
  2. Even if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures, go ahead and use the photo for your family Christmas card anyway. Go ahead and print the photo and put it on your end table anyway. Go ahead and make the 8×10 canvas and put it up in your bedroom. Go ahead and make a few copies to give your children when they get bigger because YOU are important, YOU are beautiful and YOU are needed in your family and this world JUST AS YOU ARE.
  3. Save the CD. Save the flash drive. Save the proofs. Save the memory card. Just save the photos, wherever they are. Then take another look at them three years later, five years later, ten years later and beyond. You’ll realize you were so pretty, so beautiful, so lovely. And you’ll most definitely wonder WHY in the world you thought anything different.
  4. Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a little grace.
  5. Keep yourself in the picture and call yourself beautiful because you are.


pederson-120 pinksig


I am woman.

Born from my mother’s womb. Bloody. Bruised. Breathing, bright and beautiful.

Still in pain, her belly barren, Mama bowed low and bestowed upon me all names I’d ever need.






Beloved Daughter.

Born to bring light and life, dignity and strength, elegance and grace.

I am woman.


I am woman.


Do it all. Have it all. BE. ALL. The world tells me how and who I should be.

Daughter. Granddaughter. Sister. Niece. Cousin. Wife. Mother. Stepmother. Godmother. Aunt. Grandmother. Great Grandmother. Friend. Friendly. Best Friend. Bestie. Mentee. Mentor. Single. Stay-at-Home Mom. Work-from-Home Mom. Working Mom. Part-Time Working Mom. PTA Mom. Volunteer. Cook. Chef. Chocolate-Chip Cookie Maker. Taxi-Cab Driver. Counselor. Psychologist. Fair. Balanced. Business Woman. Writer. Actor. Artist. Elegant. Engineer. Model. Sexy. Sexy Mama. One Hot Mama. Rocker. Beautiful. Beast. Built. Big Breasted. Athletic. Trim. Thin. Funny. Smart. Witty. Kind. Savvy. Independent. Submissive. Generous. Giving. Philanthropist. Missionary. Designer. Graphic Designer. Pinterest Pretty. Stylish. Sassy. Hip. Cool. Calm. Collected. Casual. Considerate. Revolutionary. Chic. Prim. Proper. Perfect. Primped to the Nines. Fashion Forward. Poised. Politically Informed. Politically Correct. Quiet. Polite. Thoughtful. Thorough. Thick-Skinned. Vulnerable. Flexible. Decisive. Fierce.

I do it all.

Or maybe not.

I try to DO, HAVE and BE.

I am woman.



My voice, it will not be silenced. My heart, it’s torn. My life, let it be.

Most days I’m filled with insecurity.

God formed me, fashioned me, made me and named me.

I’m here for a reason.

I’m not a possession or a productivity robot.

I long to be seen for who I am, for who I really am.

There is nobody, nobody like me.

I am claimed. Named.

Beautiful. Holy. Chosen. Precious one.

I am woman.



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